This week, I’m at C-Scape, an analyst-focused part of Cisco Live (its big customer event this year in Las Vegas). Zorawar Biri Singh, CTO and SVP, Cloud Services & Platforms, set the stage with a talk on strategy, a topic that puts everything else into context.
The Four Eras of IT
Singh opened with “The Four Eras of IT,” which was about the evolution of the IT market: mainframes from the 1960s to 1980s; PCs and the Web to the mid-2000s; the cloud and mobile today; into the fourth phase, which we are entering now, IoT + Analytics + Automation (intelligence).
Each of the eras he discussed had its own core focus. At first, IT was just about automating accounting, then paper processes and communications. Then came consumer and social apps, tons of devices, and new systems of engagement. Finally, there were highly predictive ecosystems, pervasive security, industrial IoT and autonomic infrastructure.
This fourth era unleashes two digitalized waves: a people-centric digitalization wave and a machine-centric digitalization wave. The first wave enables people; the second massively increases the power and effectiveness of computing.
For the people side, Singh is talking about the transformation of processes, business models, empowering the workforce, and personalizing the customer/citizen experience.
The areas of computing that are being affected are networks, collaboration, security, automation and analytics. It is led by culture and powered by IT, according to Singh.
Singh discussed the fact that Cisco is focused on seven pillars: Network, NGDC (Next Generation Data Center), SP (Service Providers), Security (cyber security, not just network security), Collaboration, IoT (he thinks this one area will define Cisco for the future), and Analytics (petabyte scale and extremely low latency).
This all connects to four platforms backed by $6.5B in R&D, which contrasts rather sharply with HP’s recent massive R&D cut, suggesting HP’s ability to compete with Cisco may be evaporating. These platforms are orchestration and management, software/OSs, hardware/ASICs and the Cisco Cloud. The last will allow customers to consume Cisco’s software offerings as SaaS. This will have a heavy NPS component so they can measure customer advocacy and use that advocacy to effectively expand their customer bases for the SaaS service.
One of the big goals of all this is to spread analytics throughout the Cisco product set. Part of this will be the massive IoT push, so it isn’t just about connecting things but making real-time sense of the data that is connected.
Cisco envisions a future (in five years) in which customers no longer manage their own infrastructure and on-premise resources, in which everything in IT is in the cloud. All of Cisco’s acquisitions, development efforts, and strategic changes are focused on this future.
Singh showcased the evolution from Bare Metal/Virtual on premise to cloud-enabled applications that could run either on premise or in the public cloud to cloud native applications. Cisco’s solutions are shifting to a container focus so that streaming data and analytics isn’t just possible, it’s a Cisco competitive advantage. This moves Cisco from a converged infrastructure to a hyperconverged one. Containers and analytics is the next destination. The shift from hardware to services appears to be a fundamental change in Cisco. It is moving from competing with companies like HP to competing with the likes of Amazon. This is forcing Cisco to disaggregate many of its offerings while it converts them to Cloud SaaS/PaaS constructs to better meet the related customer needs that are emerging.
This doesn’t mean Cisco is abandoning hardware, at least not initially. It recognizes there is a long road to get where it wants to go and the next-generation data center remains a strategic interim focus.
Wrapping Up: The Evolution of Cisco
Singh is a fascinating speaker. He is talking about evolving Cisco into a very different company in order to address a very different kind of opportunity as the market pivots over the next decade or so from traditional on premise IT to IT in the cloud. Cisco isn’t abandoning its traditional markets; it’s putting a massive amount of development into the future of hardware. But the ultimate future is in the cloud and IT as a service.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+.